In the wake of the dispatch of Anwar Al-Awlaki, former Bush administration legal advisor John B. Bellinger III wonders if Obama’s use of drone strikes could damage him in the way Guantanamo Bay damaged his predecessor, alienating international allies and leaving officials open to prosecution.
The short answer is ‘No’. While he focuses on the finer points of international law and domestic anti-terror legislation, Bellinger overlooks that fact that the opposition to Bush and Guantanamo was primarily driven not by legal concerns but by partisan politics.
There are, I’m sure, many human rights activists out there who are deeply principled, and would oppose drone strikes, indefinite detention, military tribunals and other controversial counter-terrorism measures under any administration. I can see their arguments, although I believe they’re wrong, often dangerously so.
But many more activists in the ‘rights’ industry are first and foremost leftists, who use human rights issues to advance leftist agendas – a fact Bellinger acknowledges when he writes “Human rights advocates, on the other hand, while quiet for several years (perhaps to avoid criticizing the new administration), have grown increasingly uncomfortable with drone attacks.”
Some of the most vociferous opponents of the Bush administration’s anti-terror policies were individuals so committed in their opposition to the President – from deranged Code Pinkers to cynical Democrats to the National Security Leaks desk at the New York Times – that they were happy to try and undermine those policies, and weaken their nation’s defences, for political gain.
To appreciate this, you only have to recall the
howls of outrage mutterings of mild disappointment from the left when it became clear that Obama was not, after all, going to close Gitmo, nor prosecute CIA operatives accused of involvement in what his Justice Department alleged was the torture of terror suspects.
And principled or not, human rights campaigns are only going to gain traction with coverage in the media; and both the mainstream US and international media, dominated as they are by liberals and leftists, aren’t going to beat up on Obama as they did on Bush (although they might have made a bit of a fuss if his presidency had been going well domestically).
So don’t expect to see activist Spanish judges issuing arrest warrants for Eric Holder or his minions any time soon.